Generally, after the placenta is birthed, the umbilical cord is cut using scissors and a plastic clamp is then applied. Another practice is cord burning, where instead of cutting, the umbilical cord is heated under safe conditions until the cord separates. An alternative name for this is sacred severance (Williams 2017).
Cord burning has been practiced for centuries, mainly in the Chinese cultures (Lim & Miyuki 2015). In Traditional Chinese Medicine, chi is considered the life force within the body. Cord burning was believed to help the chi move from placenta to baby. Lim also recounts a conversation with a Doctor of Chinese Medicine, who stated that cord burning brings the element of fire into the birth process, which manifests in baby’s improved wellbeing and the mother’s increased recovery time and breastmilk supply.
Williams (2017) describes that cord burning is having a resurgence in the West. Generally, the umbilical cord is laid out stretched away from the baby. The placenta is placed in a bowl. Either one or two candles are placed underneath the cord so that the flame may burn through the tissue. Often, the candles are held by family members or significant people in the baby's life. To keep the baby safe, a guard is placed between the flame and baby. The burning takes around 20 mins.
The reason cord burning has been popular is that it is a much more sterile severance than scissors. There is little to no risk of infection when the umbilical cord has been singed. Lim (2015) recounts her time in Aceh, Indonesia when the tsunami struck and midwives and birth attendants did not have sterilised supplies. The method of detachment Lim taught others was cord burning which was effective and hygienic.
New mothers can find themselves iron depleted fairly easily once they have given birth to their baby. Iron deficiency anaemia is the most common single nutrient deficiency in the world and a leading cause of postpartum morbidity and contributes to the overall physical and mental health of mothers and babies (Beard et al.). Iron deficiency has been linked with postpartum fatigue and mood disorders in mothers, as well as slow weight gain and infections in babies (Verdon et al.; Bodnar, Cogswell, and McDonald). Beard et al. (2005) found that low iron strongly relates to depression, stress and cognitive functioning in postnatal mothers.
The placenta has been used over time to address mother’s iron loss and replenish the low stores (Young et al.). Limited and small population size research is available in regards to placentophagia and iron levels but there is some concluding evidence to suggest that consuming your placenta may increase iron levels.
A Thai study found that heat-dried placenta retained high levels of nutrients, iron included in this list (Phuapradit et al.). However, a small study by Schwering et al. (2017) found that there was no difference in iron levels with different methods of processing and surmised that some iron content may have been lost with encapsulation. Another study found detectable levels of iron in the placenta capsules after using a Traditional Chinese Method preparation and concluded that the capsules met 24% of the Recommended Daily Intake for iron in postnatal women (Young et al.). The study (Young et al.), however, failed to mention the bioavailability of the placental iron, which begs the question, would placental iron be better absorbed and metabolised by the woman’s body as opposed to alternate iron supplementation? In 2017, Gryder et al. conducted a randomised placebo-controlled trial measuring iron content of human placenta against beef placebo. The conclusion was that encapsulated placenta supplementation neither significantly improved or impaired postpartum maternal iron status for women.
So, based off the current research performed, placenta encapsulation may slightly improve iron status in women postnatally, which may lead to greater wound recovery, increased mood and healthier babies.
Lotus birth is when the placenta is not actively cut or separated from the baby, but will dry and disconnect itself after several days (Rachana 2001). Lotus birth is a relatively new ritual, only having being observed in chimpanzees previously (Buckley 2009). Lim and Miyuki (2015) state that usually the placenta and cord are wrapped in cloth or placed in a bowl and salted with herbs to preserve it and reduce any odour. This process of salting is commonly repeated everyday until the cord separates. Buckley (2009) suggests lotus birth provides the baby with a gentle transition to life and that the baby is calmer and more responsive to his or her surroundings. Many women report that the cord falls off in a shorter time frame, however there is insufficient research to support this (Buckley 2009). Probably the greatest benefit of all, is that through delaying the separation of placenta from baby, means that mother and baby are highly unlikely to be apart, encouraging uninterrupted bonding (Buckley 2009, Rachana 2001).
In regards to placental encapsulation, lotus birth makes it difficult to join the two rituals. However, if this is something that is important to you, there is the possibility of removing a part of the placenta for encapsulation.
Traditional Chinese Medicine has been practiced for over 2500 years and combines acupuncture, herbs and massage. The theory behind Traditional Chinese Medicine involves the body's life force or chi, which runs along meridians. According to Enning (2007), human placenta has been used medicinally in China for 1400 years.
Loke (2013) cites the Compendium of Materia Medica, and discusses how the first born placenta was considered the best quality. Interestingly, the ancient text also states that placentas from male and female babies were used to treat men and women's diseases, respectively (Loke 2013, Young & Benyshek 2010). Young and Benyshek (2010) also mention that family members were also encouraged to consume the placenta, according to the Materia Medica.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the placenta has a tonifying effect on the kidneys, which is commonly manifested in low energy and mood (Enning 2007). Ober (1979) writes that the author of Materia Medica, Li Shih-Chen, advises the placenta to be used to increase chi in the body, the trademark belief used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Raven Lang, a midwife who has studied Traditional Chinese Medicine states that women should use their placenta in the postpartum period to address issues related to excessive bleeding, postnatal mood disorders and recovery from birth (Lim 2015, Lang 2004 as cited in Enning 2007).
The original method of consumption confirmed by the Materia Medica, involves steaming the placenta at a low temperature so as to benefit from the nutrients and hormones. By heating and cooking the placenta, this is said to increase the chi and bring vitality to the postpartum mother. Phuapradit (2000) has shown that heat dried placenta retains the nutrients and vitamins as well as using the alternative raw method. Zī Hé Chē, otherwise known as human placenta, may be infused with herbs such as cinnamon, frankincense, myrrh, ginger or lemon (Chang, Jia & Bare 2014, Enning 2007). These additional herbs act alongside the tonifying and warming effects of the placenta restoring chi to the postpartum mother.
You may request additional herbs to be added to your placenta encapsulation, however I am not a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, so I am unable to diagnose or treat any specific conditions.